Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Triggering Myself

I'm doing my best not to make myself worse. I carry a hat, umbrella, earplugs, and sunglasses with me everywhere I go. I avoid or limit foods that I know to be triggering, so only a few spoonfuls of rocky road ice cream, if any, instead of the small mountain I used to load in my bowl. I do my best to protect myself, but I can't avoid every trigger. In fact, I actually meet a few head on.

The whole inspiration for this post came to me this morning when I was brushing my teeth. As is usual for me, I loaded up the toothbrush, gave it a little squirt with water, and started brushing. I look up when I brush my teeth, to avoid drooling on myself. I look up. Straight into the light above the mirror. I gaze vacantly into the light as my mind wanders and my teeth get brushed. I brush my top teeth, I contemplate existentialism, I stare into the light without even seeing it. I brush my bottom teeth, I compose our next shopping list, and continue to vacantly stare into the light without seeing it. My head starts to hurt and I think, is this toothpaste triggering? Then, I realize, I am staring. Into the light. OW.

Another way I am triggering myself is by unconsciously clenching my jaw. When I'm angry, or lifting something, or growling at my dog in play, or concentrating particularly hard to get something just perfect, I tend to "bear down" with my jaw muscles and I don't think it's a good idea. I don't grind my teeth at all, and I haven't noticed any direct pain from it, but it can't be helping.

Spicy flavors, tart flavors, even very sweet flavors can trigger a headache. Anything strong, that my tongue initially recoils from, will usually result in some head pain. I can do any of these flavors if they are mild, and spicy foods have actually given me some pain relief, but too strong or too much and I'm in trouble. I don't always remember this, unfortunately, until after my taste buds have gone, "WOAH!", and by then, it's too late. I love to put tons of hot sauce in my ramen soup. I like my lemonade tart. I love a moist, fudgy, uber-chocolaty chocolate cake and salt and vinegar chips. My head, not so much.

My own laugh hurts my head. This makes me so sad, I can't talk about it without getting choked up. I've always been silly and funny and giggly and I'm known for my laugh. It carries, it's infectious, and I tend to thrown my head back, open my mouth wide, and have at it with the uproariousness of it all. Unbridled joy. Unrestrained. Unimpaired. To be in pain as a result of a little unselfconscious happiness... is kind of devastating. It's a cruel joke. It makes me angry. I feel betrayed by my own body. Other people notice it, too. When I only snicker a little, or simply smile in response to something funny, it's not of the norm and it concerns those who know me. Well, those that knew me. I don't think anyone really know me anymore, including myself. My pain is changing me everyday, and sometimes I barely recognize myself. Sigh.

The triggers don't always stop me, though. My boyfriend and I take our dog to the park even though I know I'm going to leave with pain. Dogs bark, the sun shines, people talk and yell (and wear WAY too much aftershave), and the seating is less than comfy. But my dog has a blast, my man gets to flex his social muscles with the other dog owners and I get some time out of the house, and the joy of watching them both in action. It's good to get out, even if it hurts. Other activities I enjoy that hurt my head are taking slow walks, going to the library, and spending time with friends and family. These simple activities are always trigger-riddled and always end with an increase in pain, but it's important to me to maintain some sense of perspective. I weigh the consequences, like, should I miss my brother's game, or have my pain jump up a few points for a few days? Can I make it to the party for an hour and just rock the icepacks when I get home? Which is stronger, my head or my fear of missing it all?

Reminded of Cindy McCain's widely criticized comparison of her migraines to her husband's torture as a POW, I consider this question: If my pain was inflicted by an outside force, would I bow to it? Or would I stand defiant? Would I bear all it could inflict with stoicism and strength? And if this outside force had the same tendencies, to hurt me even more if I was having a good time, would I surrender into inactivity and depression? Or would I stick out that good time as long as I could, giving the finger to my torturer as he waited in the wings for his entrance? Some days, it's nothing but defiance that gets me out of bed. That makes me sort of proud.

To sum up: I can't avoid all of my triggers. Most days I feel like I can't avoid any. I am afraid of the pain, but I am more afraid of wasting my life. So I keep moving, and I keep triggering, and I have pain but I have a life in spite of it.


WinnyNinny PooPoo said...

Chronic pain changes us in unexpected ways. The most illuminating for me is the lengths I will go to to avoid extreme pain. I know now there is a limit to what I can bear.

I'm sorry you can't laugh the way you used to. Some losses just can't be quanitified. Wishing you had more pain free days.